Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PRAYING THE PSALMS - Thomas Merton


In my youth I feasted on Praying the Psalms by Thomas Merton (1915-1968). It is one of the truly helpful books I have on the prayer life given to me over the years by the late Fr Austin Day, who even preached a series of sermons based on Merton's reflections.

Thomas Merton is not all that fashionable these days (and some of my friends think he is not as orthodox as he could be), but recently I was glad to see that Praying the Psalms has been reprinted. I commend it to you, and guarantee that if you read it your appreciation of the Psalter and its purpose (not least in the context of the Daily Office) will increase.

In one of his most memorable passages Merton says:




“When we bring our sorrows to the Psalter we find all our spiritual problems mirrored in the inspired words of the psalmist. But we do not necessarily find these problems analyzed and solved.

“Few of the psalms offer us abstract principles capable of serving as a ready and sensible palliative for interior suffering. On the contrary, what we generally find is a suffering just as concrete as our own, and more profound.

“We encounter this suffering at one of its most intense and articulate moments. How many of the psalms are simply cried of desperate anguish: ‘Save me, O God, for the waters have come up even to my throat. I sink in the deep mire where no footing is : I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with crying out, my throat is parched: my eyes fail with watching so long for my God.’ (Psalm 69:1-3)

"What were the dispositions of the saints and the fathers in chanting such a psalm? They did not simply ‘consider’ the psalm as they passed over it, drawing from it some pious reflection, some nosegay. They entered into the ‘action’ of the psalm. They allowed themselves to be absorbed in the spiritual agony of the psalmist and of the one he represented. They allowed their sorrows to be swallowed up in the sorrows of this mysterious Personage, and then they found themselves swept away, on the strong tide of his hope, into the very depth of God. ‘'But to you, Lord, I make my prayer : at an acceptable time, answer me, O God, in your abundant goodness: and with your sure deliverance.’ (vv13,14) “So, in the end, all sorrow turns to triumph and to praise: ‘And I will praise the name of God in a song: and glorify him with thanksgiving . . . for God will save Zion : he will rebuild the citied of Judah’ (vv32-37).”

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